Sunday, June 28, 2015

My Take: Graveyard - This Generation's Greatest Band

In the last fifteen years, since the beginning of the new millennium, we have seen music spiral out in countless directions. The advancement and evolution of music has been happening at a torrid pace, taking our beloved sounds and updating them for a new, digital future. We have seen everything we once knew about music become obsolete, from the way it is written, to the way it is played, to the way it is consumed. To borrow a buzzword from the late 80s, the paradigm has indeed shifted.

And while evolution is inevitable, and it has brought about many advancements that are welcome, in terms of shaking up a stagnant music scene, there are plenty of ways in which that forward motion has also left some of us feeling like men out of time. The digitalization of the entire process, the focus on inhuman perfection, and the fact that we now can listen to any song ever recorded wherever and whenever we want, have all robbed music of what was once its defining feature; heart.

It's easy to criticize much of what we hear now as being cold and soulless, and that wouldn't be entirely unfair. There is a more obvious commercialization to the very process of writing music nowadays, and the shift in production styles has only served to highlight the worst aspects of what remains. Rather than embrace the imperfections of humanity, and marveling at the people who can come closest to reaching inherent greatness, we use computers to tweak everything until it is virtually flawless. Not only does perfection get boring after a while, but when everyone sounds perfect, no one sounds perfect.

Thankfully, there is one band that has emerged in this new wilderness that throws aside everything that the modern age has come to stand for, proudly making music the old-fashioned way, for old-fashioned listeners. That band is Graveyard.

The other side of the coin to the development of music is a movement that embraced the ethos of old, the vintage sounds that catapulted rock and roll into the mainstream. The sound is easy to replicate, but the spirit is a challenge. Few bands do it well, and the chasm between the rest of them and the undisputed leader, Graveyard, is mammoth.

Graveyard made a statement with their debut record. That self-titled effort laid down the gauntlet for what rock and roll could still be. In less than forty minutes, the Swedes captured our attention with songs that were so simple that on the surface you couldn't believe they were getting away with it, only to discover with more listens that the simplicity allowed the genius of their ideas and songwriting to shine through. By stripping everything down to the barest essentials, and capturing a gorgeous guitar tone that is the perfect mix of clean and dirty, they put the spotlight squarely on their songs.

It's impossible to listen to the riff that powers "Don't Take Us For Fools" and not be caught up in how genius those few notes are. While most bands are shredding through their songs in an effort to amaze you with their talents, Graveyard hangs back and lets the song take over. The riffs are simple enough for anyone to grasp, burrowing into your head whether you want them to or not. And with a keen ear for melody, the songs have vocal lines that are similarly ear-worm worthy.

The album would have gone down as a classic debut, if it had been more widely heard. The timing wasn't quite right for their music to break through, and so Graveyard remained an underground sensation. People in the know were treated to the beginning of something special, while the rest of us had to wait for a larger label to realize the genius unfolding before them.

That happened before the release of "Hisingen Blues", which not only eschewed the sophomore slump, it obliterated it. It is a record that did not capture my attention on first listen. My mind was somewhere else, and I completely missed the album's appeal. It wasn't until later that I was able to revisit the record and understand what I had overlooked.

"Hisingen Blues" upped the ante. With the same gorgeous sound pushing the music, it wasn't at first noticeable how much growth the band had shown. Their heavier numbers became more propulsive, their softer numbers more heart-breaking. Joakim Nilsson, now the sole vocalist for the band, went through a metamorphosis, emerging a full-fledged master of his craft. He could show through his voice every facet of emotion, and anchored the songs with a deft hand that began pushing the band's songs further out to the reaches of their abilities. Looking back, I can't fathom how I missed that record's greatness until their next album opened my eyes. Missing out on a year of the music is a terrible regret.

"Lights Out" was the album that converted me. After being assigned to review the record, one listen was all it took for me to see what all the hype was about. That record is, as near as I can see, the closest thing to a perfect rock record that anyone has produced for more than a decade. The band had honed their skills even further, their riffs sharper than ever, their melodies smoother. Coupled with this, the sequencing of the record was brilliant, interspersing the shorter, punchier numbers with the slower, more emotional numbers. The ebb and flow of the album allowed each song to breathe, giving them enough space from anything similar to stand out immediately upon first listen. 

That record is a flawless example of how rock and roll should be played. As I said at the time, "each and every song brings something different, something essential, to the table. The whole would be incomplete without all of the parts, each of which stands on its own as a perfectly honed weapon of vintage rock."

I went on to say that "Lights Out",  before declaring it the Album Of The Year, "is the kind of album I wish I was hearing with regularity, a collection of brilliantly written new songs that carry in them the kind of lived-in spirit that makes them feel like they've been around forever. “Hard Time Lovin'” can't possibly be exist today, but yet I'm listening to it, and it single-handedly wrings more from me than any dozen albums I've listened to this year have. And that is Graveyard's mastery. They have, through this set of songs, managed to come closer than anyone else has to building a time machine, so those of us too young to have been there can understand what it was like when rock and roll ruled the world."

In the time since that record's release, I have only grown more sure of that opinion. Listening to any of Graveyard's albums is like stepping back in time and hearing rock and roll with fresh ears. They are, to me, how I can understand the excitement that fans felt when the earliest rock bands were defining the genre. Graveyard is this generation's Led Zeppelin, this generation's Deep Purple. They carry in them the possibility of becoming part of the timeless canon of music that is simply too good to ever be forgotten. So far, through their first three records, Graveyard is practically flawless, so much so that the only peer they have for the title of Band Of The Millennium is a supergroup of some of the most talented musicians in the world.

And while that band, who I won't name at the moment, may be on Graveyard's level, they are nowhere near as important to the scene.

Graveyard is this millennium's shining light. They are the hope that music will remain forever great. I have immense faith that they will continue living up to that responsibility.

I can't wait for September, to hear and talk about the new record.

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